Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

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Craig Berube keeping cool as Flyers open playoffs

Craig Berube remembers his first NHL game in March of 1987 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two fights plus 16 minutes in penalties during a 3-1 Flyers win.
 
“I had my gloves off three times,” Berube recalled. “Oh yeah, I was nervous. But my position back then, that was my job as a player. Your first game you are nervous, for sure.”
 
Tonight at Madison Square Garden, Berube will make his NHL playoff coaching debut against the New York Rangers.
 
He already had 79 regular-season games to get adjusted. He’s not nervous.
 
“There is obviously a lot at stake,” he said. “I’m excited. I am. I am looking forward to it. They (the Flyers) know I am excited. Over the last few days, our team is excited.”
 
Sheer enthusiasm never won a playoff game, let alone a Stanley Cup. Yet it’s easy to see that Berube’s personality has not changed one iota this season.
 
Even when the club was 1-7. Even when it reached .500 in mid-December. Even when it clinched a playoff spot.
 
Look ahead, stay positive, focus on the here and present.
 
Berube feels a coach’s personality should never change with his team, especially going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
Even if faced with a legitimate crisis, such as Wednesday’s announcement that starting goalie Steve Mason will miss Game 1 with a head injury (see story).
 
“I don’t think our team feels like it is a blow at all,” he said. “I totally disagree. Things happen. Good team’s find a way to get it done. They know.”
 
Berube is a no-nonsense, shoot-from-the-hip coach, and his players know and respect that. They say they’ve seen no change in him leading up to this point.
 
Well, maybe one small thing.
 
“He’s been paying a little more close attention to detail this week,” Matt Read observed. “He wants everything perfect. No mistakes in practice, or it’s going to carry over into games.”
 
Berube says it’s important for a coach not to change his ways, his style or his demeanor just because there is the added pressure of going from the regular season to the playoffs.
 
“I don’t think I will change,” he said. “I want my team to play under control with disciplined play. I will coach the same way.”
 
Is it important for them to see there is no change here?
 
“Yeah,” he said.
 
The Flyers were already going into this series as an underdog because of Henrik Lundqvist’s absolute dominance over them since 2011.
 
With the loss of Mason, they now become a heavy underdog -- even though the fact remains that what this series should really be about is whether or not the Flyers can solve Lundqvist.
 
Emery is capable of beating the Rangers. He gets up for challenges and he’s proven that. He has outstanding lifetime numbers against the Rangers, including a glittering 1.87 goals-against average.

What Berube has to do here is refocus his team not on losing Mason, but solving the puzzle of Lundqvist while finding the confidence within his group to make it believe it can win at MSG, where they Flyers have lost eight straight.
 
That’s where positive spin and Berube’s down-to-earth approach come together. When he talked to his club this week about the Rangers, he gave them concrete reasons why they didn’t win in New York this season.
 
“The Rangers are a very good skating team,” he told them. “They get on you quick and forecheck hard and they are an aggressive team. Their defense is aggressive. In both games [there], a period here or there, a period and a half, we get off page.
 
“A little frustration sets in, turning pucks over and it costs us. We need to play a 60-minute game up there. Stay focused. You can’t get frustrated. They are a good skating hockey team. We have to get pucks deep, put pucks on Lundqvist and get traffic.”
 
Interesting that Lundqvist said he saw something on film about the Flyers that is very different from other clubs and it affects how a goalie sees their attack or tracks pucks.
 
“You just have to be aware of it, that they like that extra pass,” the big Swede said. “They have a lot of guys, especially [Claude] Giroux obviously, who can set guys up for an open net. They can shoot, but they can look for the extra pass.
 
“They can still shoot it. You just have to be ready for anything. You can't just expect a shot every time. That's what makes them a little different from other teams, a little like Pittsburgh.”
 
The key focal points, both ways, are fairly clear cut.
 
Can the Flyers score on Lundqvist? If not, it won’t matter if God is in goal for the Flyers. Can they neutralize Rangers defenseman Ryan McDonagh and grind him down into a lesser factor in the series?
 
Can Giroux’s line with Scott Hartnell and Jakub Voracek be the hot line it was earlier this winter? Does having seven 20-goal scorers -- most in the NHL -- give them a tangible edge because every line has a weapon?
 
Will their lethal power play make a critical difference, or will the Rangers' third-ranked penalty kill simply erase it?
 
Simple questions with no simple answers, Berube would tell you.
 
“The biggest thing is you have to take one shift at a time in the playoffs, focus and keep pounding away, no matter what,” Berube said. “Playoffs are a grind. You have to be prepared for a grind.
 
“That is what I told my team. Be prepared for a grind out there. Need to check and skate and work, do all the little things. If you don’t do them, you won’t be successful.”
 
Sounds like a guy who’s actually coached before in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, doesn’t it?

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov buries Chicago nightmare by showing Blackhawks his true self

Ivan Provorov moved on but didn’t forget.

The 19-year-old still remembers losing his footing on the United Center ice in front of 21,263 fans, alone in his own end and costing the Flyers a goal in a blowout defeat to the Blackhawks on Oct. 18.

In just his third NHL game, Provorov had his rookie moment. He also had a minus-5 rating when the 7-4 loss was all said and done.

Well, on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, he saw the Blackhawks again and made it a point to show them his best. Provorov ripped off two goals in 31 seconds of the second period to erase a 1-0 deficit and spearhead a 3-1 win for the Flyers (see story).

Better output than last time?

Provorov laughed, paused and then laughed again.

“A little bit,” he said. “I think so.

“I was trying to use it as a positive thing. Try to prove that that’s not me, that it’s just one bad game.”

Consider that job done.

“I didn’t play my best at that game,” Provorov said. “But I put it behind me, learned from it and this was a better result tonight.”

In 31 ticks of the clock, the Russian defenseman topped his goal total through the first 25 games (see 10 observations). Provorov uncorked a slap shot and slung a wrister for the tallies early in the middle stanza.

“I think you have to keep everything in perspective from a night like that,” Flyers head coach Dave Hakstol said of Provorov’s first game against Chicago. “He is a guy that continues to work at his game and continues to build.”

Provorov didn’t net the hat trick, but in the same period, saved a goal on the defensive end when he quickly pounced on a puck dribbling toward the goal line off and behind goalie Steve Mason.

“I came from the left corner and I saw the puck was rolling on Mase’s shoulder,” Provorov said. “It went down, rolled to the goal line. I just got there as quick as I could and swiped it out.

“I think it was close. As soon as I saw the puck, I tried to get there as fast as I can.”

After experiencing some growing pains to start the season, Provorov has played better. Once he makes a mistake, he rarely makes it again.

“He’s just beyond his years in terms of maturity and the way he studies the game,” Hakstol said a little over two weeks ago. “He’s a young guy that I can probably ask him about a play that happened two weeks ago in a game and he would immediately have recall on that play. A very intelligent player, he’s handled the ups and the downs pretty well."

Mason isn't surprised by Provorov's development.

"When you come into the league at a young age, it’s not easy and you’ve got to get your feet under you," Mason said. "We’re starting to see that [with Provorov]."

And two goals in half a minute don’t hurt.

“Score one goal in a game, it’s a good feeling. Score two in one shift, it’s unbelievable,” Provorov said. “Two great plays by our forwards. The whole team, it was a great effort, we played a great hockey game, so it was easy to play.

“Every time you score, it’s like a confidence booster. For me, it’s defense first but when you get goals and assists, it’s always nice.”

The Flyers had the players’ dads on hand for Saturday’s game. Provorov’s father, Vladimir, couldn’t make it from Russia, but you can bet he tuned in.

“He watches every game back home,” Provorov said. “Today was a little easier because it’s only 9 p.m. back home when the game started, so yeah, I think my whole family watched it.”

He watches the other games at 3, 4 a.m.?

“Yeah,” Provorov said with a smile, “then he takes my brother to practice at 6.”

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski, from Temple club hockey to NHL goalie for a day against Flyers

Eric Semborski woke up Saturday and drove to work in Voorhees, New Jersey.

It was just an ordinary morning for the 23-year-old, a Temple graduate with a bachelor’s degree in sports management.

Little did he know, in a couple of hours his world would turn upside down.

Semborski, who works for Snider Hockey and at Flyers Skate Zone running goalie clinics and roller leagues, hadn’t played competitively since suiting up for the Owls’ club team in the spring of 2015.

That was until Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center, where, someway, somehow he was draped in a Chicago Blackhawks jersey and squaring up blazing shots off the sticks of Patrick Kane, Marian Hossa and Duncan Keith, just to name a few.

Quite the promotion, huh?

“It’s surreal, really,” he said. “I can’t explain it.”

Could anyone?

“I couldn’t imagine the rush,” Blackhawks goalie Scott Darling said.

Incredibly and astonishingly, Semborski turned into an NHL goaltender for a day as Chicago’s second string to Darling, who suffered a 3-1 loss to the Flyers.

How Semborski was found and summoned by the Blackhawks is still somewhat of a mystery, even to the Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, native himself. Once Chicago received word that regular starter Corey Crawford had to suddenly undergo an appendectomy at a Philadelphia hospital, the Blackhawks started scrambling for an emergency backup to Darling.

“I was at work, at the rink in Voorhees just coaching,” Semborski said. “My boss called me and I missed it. I walked off the ice and started talking with someone from the Flyers, he started asking me, ‘Where’d you play hockey, what’s your playing history?’” 

Semborski was confounded.

“I didn’t even know what he was getting at,” he said. “I asked, ‘Why are you asking me this?’ And he said, ‘Oh, Chicago needs a goalie.’ I just lost it. He said, ‘Go home, get your stuff and if they’re going to use you, they’ll call you.’ I left right away.

“I was like, OK, this probably isn’t going to happen, there’s no way.”

Ten minutes later …

“I’m in the truck and I got a call from Chicago,” Semborski said.

Who was it?

“I just know his name’s Tony,” Semborski said. “That’s all I know.”

How the heck did the Chicago Blackhawks, winners of three Stanley Cups since 2010, find a regular, hard-working guy living in Manayunk to be their reserve netminder?

“No idea,” Semborski said, still in awe talking after the game outside the locker rooms. “I think it had something to do with me working with Snider Hockey, working at Voorhees. They asked around and people just threw my name out I guess. I really don’t know how it happened. I’ll have to get to the bottom of that and thank some people. I have no idea who gave them my info, but whoever did, thank you, because it was awesome.”

So Semborski hustled from Voorhees to Manayunk, packed up his gear — including his old Temple mask, sporting the words “Philly Proud” and “Temple Tuff” — and quickly made his way to the Wells Fargo Center. He arrived around 12:30 p.m. before puck drop at 1.

“I hit some traffic on 76 (Schuylkill Expressway), of course,” Semborski said. “I got here as fast as I could in my street clothes. No time to put on a tie.”

Once Semborski signed his amateur tryout, it became real. He walked into the visiting locker room and there were the Blackhawks and his NHL jersey, a makeshift uniform with Crawford’s No. 50.

“It was hanging up when I got in there,” he said. “I guess they took Crawford’s and threw a name on it and made it work.”

Prior to hitting the ice for warmups, Semborski got acquainted with his teammates.

“Dream come true,” he said. “That was so cool, just hanging out with those guys. They made me feel welcomed right away, started joking around.

“When I got there, they put my number on the board and said I’m throwing in $200 for the holiday party. That was pretty good. I told them, ‘You better take credit because that’s all I got.’”

What about his big-money contract?

“No, I should be paying them for this,” Semborski said. “That was awesome.

“I signed some stuff when I came in, I don’t know what it was. I’m happy with a hat and the memories.”

Especially taking the net in warmups.

“I was a bit rusty, but no matter how much I play, I’m not going to be ready for them,” he said. “It was fast and I couldn’t even catch my breath because I was trying to take it all in. That was the best 20 minutes of my life out there skating with them.

“You’re playing against the best guys in the world. I knew I wasn’t going to stop most of them. I was lucky if it hit me.”

As for the game, Semborski didn’t play.

“Well you almost saw it,” Blackhawks head coach Joel Quenneville said, referring to his frustration with a three-goal second period by the Flyers.

“That probably would have been a big mistake,” Semborski said with a laugh.

“That would have been so cool, but I wouldn’t change a thing. The experience was awesome.”

What did Quenneville think?

"That’s part of the process with all of the teams, they have the local amateur guys or sometimes guys who have played pro before," he said. "But with our cap situation, we needed an amateur, so he fit all the criteria and it was a good opportunity for him. ... It’s kind of a cool experience for the kid."

So Semborski sat on the bench, padded and ready. He smiled and watched, supporting his new team.

He, of course, is a Flyers fan, but …

“Not today,” he said with a smile. “Every other day, yeah, but not today.

“When I first got out there, I was like, ‘All right, if [the Flyers] score, don’t stand up. Just relax.’”

Semborski admitted to Chicago breaking his heart in 2010 when it beat the Flyers in the Stanley Cup Final.

“That was one of the hardest things I ever watched,” he said. “But today, that’s all forgotten. I’m a ‘Hawks fan today.”

Afterward, Semborski said his phone was flooded with 70-something text messages and 20-plus phone calls.

“I’m going to have to start calling some people,” he said.

His first will probably be to a special loved one.

“It’s my dad’s birthday,” Semborski said. “So, happy birthday, Dad. Best present ever for you.”